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Old 01-26-2013, 07:44 AM   #1
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Default Bitterness & Conventional Wisdom

There are a couple of pieces of conventional wisdom regarding bitterness that I've begun to question. Wondering if you guys agree.

1. 'Balancing' bitterness with malt. While it's certainly true that sweet flavors tend to balance out bitter ones, I don't think that's the whole story with beer. In particular, I often find that very dry, West Coast IPAs are less bitter than I would expect, because their low FG means that they're less palate-coating than, say, an American Barleywine. I suspect that something similar might happen with high levels of carbonation, which tend to scrub the palate. Lots of bitterness up front, but less lingering bitterness.

2. Palate bitterness threshold. I don't know if anyone has a source for this, but I've heard on a number of occasions that humans have a threshold for hop bitterness, corresponding 90, 120, or whatever IBUs. I'm not sure I believe this. Has anyone tasted hop extract? How about cocktail bitters? It's certainly true that it's very difficult to make a beer over 100 IBUs, especially after packaging, and perhaps perceived bitterness does not correspond linearly with IBUs, but I have a hard time believing there's a firm ceiling within the range of bitterness that occurs in beer.

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Old 01-26-2013, 08:45 AM   #2
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Wrt 2, I don't think anyone's claiming there's a 'firm' bitterness threshold but I did listen to a Stan Hieronymous' podcast a few days ago where he said that humans can't detect much above 60ibus. He said there's very little perceivable difference between 60 and 100ibus

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Old 01-26-2013, 12:35 PM   #3
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Conventional wisdom changes every year or two with homebrewing. I'd call it Wisdom 2012 or something similar. That way you know what you're dealing with.

A couple of years ago the max detectable IBUs was 100. James Spencer and one of his college professor friends did a series of tests and came up with the 60 IBU limit.

The movement now is to push hop additions to later in the boil to increase the hop flavor and aroma, and cut back some on the 60min bitterness level. Perhaps have your first hop addition at the 30min (from end of boil). I'm a big fan of this "hop-loading".

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Old 01-26-2013, 01:16 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by passedpawn
Conventional wisdom changes every year or two with homebrewing. I'd call it Wisdom 2012 or something similar. That way you know what you're dealing with.
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Old 01-26-2013, 05:17 PM   #5
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I'm not sure I understand what you're saying in item 1. Is it that sweeter beers are more bitter, at least on the finish? Is it just final gravity that you're talking about, but not OG?

I have and imperial stout with 65 IBUs calculated, and it doesn't taste as nearly as bitter as a light IPA with 55 calculated, so I'm not sure I agree with you. I also think temperature is a huge factor in perceived sweetness/bitterness. Aggressive IPAs when warmer seem more balanced, but a really cold Pils with decent hop presence can seem sharp.

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Old 01-26-2013, 05:40 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by passedpawn View Post
Conventional wisdom changes every year or two with homebrewing. I'd call it Wisdom 2012 or something similar. That way you know what you're dealing with.

A couple of years ago the max detectable IBUs was 100. James Spencer and one of his college professor friends did a series of tests and came up with the 60 IBU limit.
This test was about IBU maximization in beer, not about taste threshold, which is an entirely different beast. Taste thresholds are completely independent of what it is physically possible to put into a beer.
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